Nolan Levi Strauss, a truck driver who almost killed a Black man by slashing his neck in 2019, has been sentenced to 16 years in federal prison after pleading guilty to a federal hate crime.
Before the sentencing on Wednesday, Strauss’ lawyers said the defendant was off his mental health medication and he was having a manic episode when he attacked Ronnell Hughes. Prosecutors, however, said there was definitely racial animosity involved in the attack.
“Mr. Strauss left no ambiguity regarding the motive for his attack,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Gavin W. Bruce said, according to Oregon Live. “He chose him because he was Black.”
The incident unfolded at the Pilot Travel Center truck stop in Ontario, Oregon, near the Idaho border. The 27-year-old driver walked into an Arby’s in the area and stabbed Hughes in the neck. But the victim was able to grab the attacker’s hands and wrestle the knife away before breaking free. Employees at the truck stop then intervened to restrain Strauss.
Hughes was rushed to the hospital for emergency surgery. Strauss, who was later asked to explain why he attacked a stranger, said “Because he was Black and I don’t like Black people.”
The Department of Justice said the two men didn’t know each other.
“Strauss did not know the man and had never seen him before, but he decided he wanted to kill the man, because he was Black,” the DOJ said in a statement. “The man was at the Arby’s to provide documentation for a pending job application. He sat in a booth by himself and waited to meet with the restaurant manager, when Strauss entered the building and approached the man from behind.”
Speaking at the sentencing in Eugene, Oregon, on Wednesday, Hughes said he didn’t see the perpetrator when he snuck up behind him.
“I don’t have any enemies and for someone to just sneak up on me and try to take my life from me … I’m angry, somebody I don’t even know,” the 49-year-old told U.S. District Judge Michael J. McShane.
Prosecutors presented segments of a police interview, which showed Strauss reiterating his disdain for Black people. The attacker also confessed to his racist behavior in court, then tried to show remorse.
“I’m extremely sorry for what I did. I wouldn’t do that in my right state of mind,” he said. “I’m happy that he survived.”
Hughes, who had just moved from North Carolina to Oregon in 2019, needed months of physical therapy to regain his voice after the attack. It was also difficult for him to recover the motion in his neck and arm.
“Every time I wake up and brush my teeth, that’s all I see is 54 staples across my neck,” he told the court.